Working with Gwenllian Morgan

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

As a team, we have been talking a lot about work lately. In order to test out our evolving ontology for cataloguing women’s work, we’ve started to create quite detailed entries for a few women in our database. These detailed entries are based on the initial archive research we have done over the past few months, and associated desk-based research in primary and secondary source material. 

Working through the source material and figuring out how to catalogue what we are finding about women’s work most effectively has highlighted the need for us to construct a flexible and contextually relevant framework to represent what can be quite complex forms of activity into statements that work as linked data.  

We are using this framework to reflect the wide range of activities we are seeing in the records. And where possible, we are noting whether or not “positions held” – which we are deliberately separating from employment – are paid or unpaid, with salary specifics where we have them. To that end, we have decided to pull all these together by making a new item “public or professional activity”, each work-related property we create will now be united, and queryable, through the statement that it is an “instance of” a “public and professional activity”. 

Let’s take the example of Gwenllian Morgan, one of the women in our database. She was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in the 1930s, toward the end of her extremely active life. Her blue paper reflects the wide range of her activities – beginning with her name, after which are the letters J. P., indicating that she was a justice of the peace.  

The “Addition, Profession or Occupation” field on the blue paper reveals that she held the position of Mayor in Brecon, Wales, where she lived, in 1910, and that she was Governor (equivalent to a Trustee position) of the National Library of Wales.  

The “Qualification” field introduces yet more areas of “public and professional” activity that Morgan undertook: her co-founding of the Brecknock Society and Museum, her role as Correspondent (effectively local reporter) in Brecon and district for the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments, and her association with the “restoration” of the Cresset Stone in Brecon Cathedral.  

This last detail took a bit of time and research to unpack. On first glance, it might look like Morgan had a role in conserving the stone, which had been found in a nearby garden. But in fact, courtesy of the National Library of Wales’s digitised newspaper collection, the “restoration” refers to Morgan’s purchase of the stone and (presumably) her donation of it to the Cathedral. As an aside, I’d highly recommend watching this beautiful film of a specially composed piece of music played near the Cresset stone, which is illuminated with candles. 

Turning to secondary source material, we find yet more evidence of Morgan’s activities in local government beyond her positions as J. P. and Mayor as indicated in her blue paper. An article in the Review of Reviews, published to coincide with her inauguration as mayor, notes that she had further positions as a town councillor and a poor law guardian

It remains to be seen how far Morgan’s local government work fed into her antiquarian interests. But it is clear that Morgan felt very strongly about championing women’s work in local government. She outlined her thoughts on the matter at a meeting of the National Union of Women Workers, which took place in Manchester in 1895.  Her speech there was published as a pamphlet, which is now accessible through the LSE Women’s Library digital collection.  

Alongside this local work, Morgan took part in national and international campaigns for temperance, holding positions in the World Women’s Christian Temperance Association and the British Women’s Temperance Association in the 1890s. As Superintendent of Petitions and Treaties for the WWCTA, she led on the collection of signatures of Great Britain and Ireland for the Polyglot petition, which called for governments to prevent trade in opium and alcohol. The founder of the WWCTA, Frances E. Willard, noted in her announcement of Morgan’s appointment that Morgan owed the role to her friend Lady Henry Somerset – an indication both of the role of patronage in these appointments and of Morgan’s social network. 

Morgan’s public and professional activities encompass some key areas we are planning to highlight through our database, including the intersection of proto-feminist campaigning with heritage-related and philanthropic activities. We won’t be able to cover every woman in our database in this much detail, but Morgan’s active life gives us a useful template for thinking through how we represent various aspects of women’s work through time.  

References/Further Reading 

Brecon County Times, 1913. Builth Wells Naturalists At the Priory Church, Brecon, 31 July, p 6. 

Chapin, Clara, 1895. Thumb nail sketches of white ribbon women. Chicago: Women’s Temperance Publishing Association. 

Morgan, Gwenllian E. F. 1895. The Duties of Citizenship: The Proper Understanding and Use of the Municipal and Other Franchises for Women. 

Willard, Frances E. 1890. A New World’s Secretary. The Union Signal, 4 December, p. 12. 

Introducing Our Database

We are now three months into Beyond Notability. We gave our first overview presentation of the project at the Society of Antiquaries Christmas Miscellany last month, for which we pulled together some initial findings. It’s the start of a new year, and so it seems an opportune moment to introduce the first iteration of one of the main project outputs: our research database. 

The research database was set up by Co-Investigator James Baker, and currently operates on WbStack, a shared hosting platform for Wikibase sites. You can find it at the web address https://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com (though note the address will change in Spring 2022 when we migrate to Wikibase.Cloud, a new service that will be managed and maintained by Wikimedia Deutschland). You can also find a link to it on our website, by clicking on “Database” in the menu. This post will take you through a few key parts of the database at this early stage of its development. Please note:  if you are using Chrome as your browser, you may need to make sure your language settings are set to British English in order to see all the data.  

And so, to begin. At the top of the main page of the database site you will find a short description of the aims of the project. This section also links to our statement of project values, which has a related bibliography. 

Screenshot of the main page of the Beyond Notability project database, Jan 2022.

Below the first section you will find a section called “Where to start”. The links under this section will take you to a list of all the items (currently) in the database, each of which has an individual Q number, the unique identification number for each item. The list includes people, organisations, events, titles, publications and sources, all linked in some way to individual women’s records. You will also find a list of properties in this section. These are words or phrases that allow us to link items together, or qualify information in a given item (with, for example, an approximate date for the information given, or a reference to source material).  

We have begun creating records for women who were proposed as Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries.  For these entries we began by using the information available in one key source for our project, the Certificates of Candidates for Election (also known as “blue papers”). The “blue papers” have been bound into volumes, each volume representing papers from roughly a 10-year period. The volumes are held in the Society of Antiquaries’ archive. Eventually, we intend to add to these entries with information from other sources. 

Scrolling down the page, under the Additional Resources section of the website you will find a link called “Meta“. This will take you to a page where we will be documenting our decision making and our source material. Under the “Item Templates” section is a list of information we will be prioritising in our dataset, and also information we intend not to prioritise. The following section “Key Sources” will link to pages with descriptions of some of the most important sources for our dataset, such as the “blue papers”, with details on why they are useful for our project.  

Let’s look at an individual entry. 

In 1924, the archaeologist Marjerie Venables Taylor became the first woman proposed and elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries through the same route as a man – that is to say, she was proposed by another Fellow and not by the Society’s Council.  We have extracted data from the  “blue paper” for M. V. Taylor (as she was more commonly known) to begin representing Taylor’s life; our current efforts are on our website at this url: https://beyond-notability.wiki.opencura.com/wiki/Item:Q133. This url will be the main ‘address’ for Taylor on our database for the present, and in due course more information from other sources will be added to supplement the information given on Taylor’s “blue paper”.  

Screenshot of the Beyond Notability database entry for Margerie Venables Taylor, Jan 2022.

The box at the top indicates Taylor’s name as it was given on the blue paper. Alternative names are also listed under “also known as”.  The alternative names are important as women frequently appear in different sources with different names (this is particularly true if they were married).  

Below the top box, is the “event” of the proposal, given as a single statement. This includes the propertyelection to SAL proposed by“, with the name of the person who initially proposed Taylor (who we have assumed is the first signatory on the list) following. The property “evidence (free-text)” is next, enabling us to transcribe of the information on the blue paper. Another property “point in time” is used to indicate the date that the blue paper was submitted. All the people who signed her blue paper are listed with the property “proposed election to SAL signed by“. Each person has been given their own Q number, and are included in the list of “items”. The property “is elected” allows us to indicate whether or not the person was admitted as a Fellow.  The property “evidence (item)” is used where we have created individual items for individual pieces of evidence, such as a job, or a publication, that were used as supporting details for admission to the Fellowship.    

Below this are separate statements with properties to indicate an individual’s sex/gender, whether or not they are already included in Wikidata, whether they have been given a person ID by the Archaeology Data Service (which links to a list of their publications), their residence including locality (given in the blue paper), employment or degree information.  

The information given in the blue papers can sometimes be difficult to isolate as an item. In Taylor’s case, while there was specific information about the positions she held at the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, there was also an explicit statement about her “distinguished service to the study of Roman Britain”. To capture this more ambiguously framed but important information, we have created a free-text property called “area of expertise“.  Each of the statements described above has been given a reference, using the property “stated in“, which links to the item “Society of Antiquaries Certificates of Candidates for Election“. 

There are currently three statements on Taylor’s page that do not come from her blue paper, and they show the potential for adding information from other sources to enrich the data given in the blue papers. Two of these – “described at URL” and “Archaeology Data Service person ID” – link outward to other websites that describe Taylor’s life and work in the form of statements, connecting our data to those sites, and enabling cross-referencing and querying. The third uses the property “member of” to indicated that Taylor sat on the (item) “Society of Antiquaries Research Committee“. This information has come from another recently added item, the publication “Camulodonum: The First Report of the Excavations at Colchester“. This excavation was conducted in the 1930s as a collaboration between the Society of Antiquaries (through the Research Committee) and the (item) “Colchester Excavation Committee“. Creating the publication as an item enables us to use it as a reference for the work of other women mentioned in the report. From the “Camulodonum” item, you can use “what links here” on the left-hand menu to see the other women included in the report. Some of these women were proposed and elected as Fellows in the years that followed. We will be adding their blue papers in the months to come. 

Detail from Margerie Venables Taylor’s page showing the what links here link (see bottom left hand corner), Jan 2022.

We hope that this post will help you navigate our database site, which grows larger every day. This site is a work in progress, and the ways in which we are cataloguing the data will change as we continue discussing, thinking about and analysing the records. We encourage all of you to take a look at the women we’ve already been able to represent with the data available to us to date. And we hope that you enjoy engaging with the data as much as we do. 

Gertrude Rachel Levy in the Archives

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

My first guest post for the project is on Gertrude Rachel Levy (1883-1966) who was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1947, while she was working as Librarian of the Hellenic & Roman Societies in London. I focus on her work in the 1920s and 30s in Mandate Palestine and Iraq, and spent a morning in the archive of the Palestine Exploration Fund to track her down, coming across many other women in archaeology, history and heritage along the way! “Gertrude Rachel Levy in Mandate Palestine” is published on the Institute of Classical Studies blog.

The Congress of Archaeological Societies

By Amara Thornton (Co-Investigator, Beyond Notability)

We are continuing to explore the various archives held in the Society of Antiquaries that may be relevant to understanding the range of women’s activities in archaeology, history and heritage. Recently, we examined the papers of the Congress of Archaeological Societies (CAS), which are part of this group. This historic organisation was before a few weeks ago unknown to me, but it has already proven to be significant.

Image of the front cover of the Minute Book of the Congress of Archaeological Societies, 1894-1918. Copyright of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
Congress of Archaeological Societies Minute Book 1894-1918 (CAS/001). Reproduced with permission of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Established in 1888, the Congress of Archaeological Societies brought local archaeology and history societies throughout the UK “in union” with the Society of Antiquaries. As the Report of the Derbyshire Archaeological and Natural History Society put it in 1892, following the Congress’s Third Annual Meeting: “Members will be glad to know that this Congress seems to supply a long-felt want in bringing the various county societies into closer communication one with another, and in promoting systematic research.” 

The Congress issued summary pamphlets on the work of its various Sub-Committees who spearheaded the “systematic research” being supported or undertaken by the Congress. This included, between 1891 and 1914, annual Indexes of Archaeological Papers published in a significant number of local antiquarian, archaeological and historical societies and field clubs across the UK (England, Scotland, Wales, and all of Ireland). These yearly Indexes were complemented in 1907 by Laurence Gomme and Alice (Merck) Gomme‘s Index of Archaeological Papers 1665-1890.  Looking at these Indexes more closely gives us an important overview of the names and numbers of women publishing papers in local, regional and national journals relating to archaeology, history, ethnology, anthropology and folklore. 

Many FSAs were deeply involved in the Congress as members of the Standing Committee, cementing the close relationship between the two.  Among the early schemes that the Society either supported or organised were a Photographic Survey of EnglandTranscription and Publication of Parish Registers, and a framework for recording Church Inscriptions. In 1901 the CAS formally established its Earthworks Committee, which also issued annual reports giving an overview of sites discovered, at risk, and under active exploration, as well as an earthwork-specific bibliography of papers published that year. Women’s names can be found there too.

One or more representatives of the Societies subscribing to the Congress sent delegates to its Annual Meetings. These events were held at the rooms of the Society of Antiquaries at Burlington House, and comprised of verbal reports on the work of the Congress Sub-Committees and the progress of the various schemes the Congress was engaged in, as well as discussions among the delegates. Events after the meetings occasionally included visits to archaeological exhibitions held in the Society.

The Society of Antiquaries library has bound copies of the printed Congress reports as well as the Congress’s archive; these sources are complementary and should be read together.  The printed meeting reports include lists of the Congress’s affiliated Societies, with the name and address of an individual to contact. By 1908, the first women’s names appear. Amy (Leslie) Johnston, the Viking Club (later Society)‘s Honorary Secretary and co-editor with her architect husband Alfred Wintle Johnton of Old-Lore Miscellany, and Agnes Sophia Griffith (later Johns) for the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society (Griffith’s brother was Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith).  Amy Johnston was a delegate for the Viking Club at the Congress of Archaeological Society’s Annual Meeting in July 1911, where she spoke on the issue of restoration of churches.

In 1917, another milestone was gained for women at the Congress of Archaeological Societies: the election of Nina Layard to the Congress’s Council. Layard’s publications had been included in the Congress’s Indexes of Archaeological Papers since 1899, and as the First World War drew to a close, at the meeting of the Congress in November 1917 she was proposed by William Dale and Dr David Cranage, both of whom were Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries, for election to the Council. Just a few years later, in 1921, she was proposed by the Council of the Society of Antiquaries for election to the Fellowship.

At the Congress’s meeting in November 1919, Layard discussed her ongoing work at Mundford, Norfolk, where flint tools had been uncovered in the course of ploughing in 1918. Layard’s subsequent excavation of the site intended to discover the original position of the tools. The Congress’s report highlighted that Layard had already presented a paper on her findings at the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia.

There are many facets of the Congress’s work where women might be found. At present, we are going through the Congress’s Indexes of Archaeological Papers in order to gather data on the women included in these Indexes and the local archaeological and historical societies with which they were associated. Nina Layard is an important example of where the Society of Antiquaries and the Congress of Archaeological Societies intersect in terms of women’s participation. But she will not be the only one. 

References/Further Reading

CAS Committee and Council Minute Books, Society of Antiquaries archive CAS/001.

CAS Annual & Special Reports 1888-1920, Society of Antiquaries Library.

Congress of Archaeological Societies in Union with the Society of Antiquaries, 1903. Scheme for Recording Ancient Defensive Earthworks and Fortified Enclosures. London: Harrison & Sons.

O’Neil, B. H. St J. 1946. The Congress of Archaeological Societies. Antiquaries Journal 26 (1-2): 61-66.

Saga-Book Archive, Viking Society for Northern Research.

Townsend, J A B, 1986-9. A Memoir of Alfred Johnson by his Nephew. Saga-Book 22, 457-62.